Saying goodbye to loved ones is nothing new. Death is as sure as life. Three hundred and forty two years ago, in 1674, a little book was written to help some parents who lost a beloved child. It has helped me too and I want you to know about it.
The title, “Facing Grief: Counsel for Mourners” perfectly describes what this little book is about. The author, John Flavel, a minister in the south of England, had already buried two wives and his parents when he wrote these pages. Facing Grief is not an autobiography, but his own tragedies, give legitimacy to the hard but helpful truths he put down on paper. There are minimal stories, or personal examples, but if you want to know how to mourn in a way that glorifies God, Flavel brings Scripture to bear on grief. The language is in the “old English” style, but this did not deter me. I soaked up the pages.
Everyone’s path of grief is different, and yet, for Christians, there are certain things we need to remember.
Here are a sampling of quotes from each section…
The difference between “moderate” and “immoderate” sorrow and the biblical parameters of both.
“We must allow the mourning, afflicted soul a due and comely expression of his grief and sorrow in his complaints to both God and men….There is no sin in complaining TO God, but much wickedness in complaining OF Him.” Flavel sites David in the Psalms as an example of the right way to grieve…”I poured out my complaint before Him; I showed before Him my trouble. When my spirit was overwhelmed within me, then you knew my path.” Psalm 142: 2-3
Sorrowing can cross the line and become sinful.
“Our sorrows may then be pronounced sinful when they deafen our ears to all the wholesome and seasonable words of counsel and comfort offered us for our relief and support.” I myself have been guilty of this. On more than one occasion, I’ve said to dear ones, “You don’t understand!”, hurting them, and missing out on the comfort I needed and would have truly helped.
For the unbeliever, sorrow can be a good thing.
“This affliction for which you mourn may be the greatest mercy to you that ever yet befell you in this world…Why this is sometimes the way of the Lord with men: ‘If they are bound in fetters, and held in cords of affliction; then he shows them their work, and their transgressions that they have exceeded. He opens also their ear to discipline, and commands that they return from iniquity.’ Job 36:8-9”
There are many, many comforts for believers. (This is the largest section of the book.)
“Always remember that, however soon and unexpected your parting with your relations was, yet your lease was expired before you lost them, and you enjoyed them every moment of the time that God intended them for you…Oh, if this had been done, or that omitted; had it not been for such miscarriages and oversights, my dear husband, wife, or child had been alive at this day! No, no, the Lord’s time was fully come, and all things concurred and fell in together to bring about the pleasure of His will. Let that satisfy you: had the ablest physicians in the world been there, or had they that were prescribed another course, as it is now so it would have been when they had done all…He who appointed the seasons of the year appointed the seasons of our comfort in our relations; and as those seasons cannot be altered, no more can these. All the course of providence is guided by an unalterable decree; what falls out casually to our apprehension yet falls out necessarily in respect of God’s appointment. Oh, therefore be quieted in it. This must needs be as it is.”
“Call to mind in this day of trouble, the covenant you have with God, and what you solemnly promised him in the day you took him for your God… Now Christians, make good to Christ what you did so solemnly promise him. He, I say, HE has disposed of this your dear relation, as pleased him, and is thereby trying your uprightness in the covenant which you made with him. Now where is the satisfaction and content you promised to take in all his disposals? Where is that covenanted submission to his will? Did you except this affliction that is come upon you?...this day it is put to the proof. Remember what you have promised him.”
“Be careful you exceed not in your grief for the loss of earthly things, considering that Satan takes the advantage of all extremes…When it is dark night with men, it is noon-day with Satan; that is, our suffering-time is his busiest working-time; many a dismal suggestion he then plants and grafts upon our affliction, which are much more dangerous to us than the affliction itself…desponding thoughts…hard thoughts of God…murmuring and repining…irreligious and atheistical thoughts…By these things Satan gets no small advantage on the afflicted Christian.”
“If God be your God, you have really lost nothing by the removal of any creature-comfort….God is the fountain of all true comfort; creatures, the very best and sweetest, are but cisterns to receive and convey to us what comfort God is pleased to communicate to them; and if the cistern be broken, or the pipe be cut off, so that no more comfort can be conveyed to us that way, he has other ways and means to do it by, which we think not of; and if he please, he can convey his comforts to his people without any of them.”
Excuses and pleas for excessive sorrow AND practical ways to restrain oneself from it are answered in the final chapters. These hit hard and get right to the point.
Facing Grief is not an easy “feel-good” book. But good theology is comforting. As a Christian widow, I find my greatest comfort in my relationship with Jesus, my Lord and savior. I always have. This book has reminded me of His wonderful love, and comforts that come in many forms. Sorrow over losing a loved one is normal, but because of Jesus, I can sorrow with HOPE! Not “hope” meaning “I hope so.” But HOPE meaning “SURE of God’s promises.”
Lest anyone think I’m not grieving about Gary, don’t get me wrong, I am still sad at times. But this very good book has cautioned me to be careful as I grieve. My loss should not be a source of sin in my life. It should drive me to a closer walk with the Lord. Peace and Joy are the beautiful byproducts. Just as King David knew he would see his son again, I know I will see Gary too, He's not coming back, but someday I get to go where he is!